Spanish Explorer List

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Francisco Tomas Hermenegildo Garces

Francisco Tomas Hermenegildo Garces

Francisco Tomas Hermenegildo Garces (1738-1781) – A Spanish Franciscan priest who was a missionary and explorer. Father Garces explored the southwestern part of North America, including what is now Arizona and southern California. He visited the Hopi and Havasupai Indians, learning much about the area. From 1768 to 1776, he explored with Juan Bautista de Anza and alone with native guides. He and Juan Díaz died in a Yuman uprising in the area where the Colorado and Gila Rivers meet.

Garces was born April 12, 1738, in Morata de Jalon, Valdejalon, in north-central Spain. He entered the Franciscan Order about 1758 and was ordained a priest in 1763. Assigned to San Xavier del Bac in present-day Arizona in 1768, he explored the Gila and Colorado River Valleys, both down the Colorado River to the Gulf of California and up it to the Grand Canyon and overland to the Hopi villages. He accompanied Juan Bautista de Anza part way in both 1774 and 1775-76. He and Juan Díaz established two mission churches on the Colorado at Yuma Crossing. They and Juan de Barreneche and José Moreno were all killed there during the Yuma uprising.

Father Eusebio Francisco Kino (1645-1711) – A Jesuit priest, missionary, explorer, map-maker, mathematician, and astronomer, Kino founded many missions and explored areas in southwestern North America, including areas in what are now northern Sonora, Mexico, southern California, and southern Arizona.

Kino was born in Tirol, Italy, and was educated at the Jesuit college at Trent and went on to the Jesuit college at Hall near Innesbruck, Austria. He joined the Company of Jesus on November 20, 1665 after an illness which nearly claimed his life. He also attended the Universities of Landsberg, Inlolstadt, Innesbruck, Munich and Oehingen. In 1665, Kino became a Jesuit priest. In 1681 he sailed as a missionary from Spain to to Mexico and was appointed missionary and royal cosmographer for the California Expedition on October 28, 1682. He arrived in Baja California on April 4, 1683. He was on the second expedition to California on October 6, 1683 at which time he built a mission and established a fort at San Bruno near Loreto. On August 15, 1684 he took his final vows as a Jesuit. He was appointed missionary to the Seri and Guaymas Indians on November 20, 1685.

In March, 1687, he established his first Jesuit mission in what is now Sonora, Mexico. In 1691, he began a series of more than 40 expeditions exploring southern Arizona, traveling along the Rio Grande, Colorado, and the Gila Rivers. Over a 24 year period, he established 24 missions and set up the foundation for modern agriculture and livestock raising. He promoted apprenticeships of artisans and similar trades. He traveled and explored extensively: Tumacácori -1691; Altar River – 1692; Gila River to Casa Grande – 1695; Baja California – 1697; Santa María and San Pedro Rivers – 1698; Gulf of California from the north, Colorado River – 1700; Repeat trip and crosses the Colorado River on a raft – 1701; Repeat trip and proof that California is not an island – 1702; Guaymas – 1704; Tiburon Island – 1706; Pinacate and Santa Clara – 1706. He died shortly after midnight on March 15, 1711 in Magdalena, Mexico. He wrote many books of his explorations.

Tristan de Luna y Arellano (1519-1571) – A Spanish Conquistador of the 16th century, Arellano served with Vasquez de Coronado on his expedition to the Seven Cities of Cíbola and established Pensacola, one of the earliest European settlements within the present-day United States. Born in Borobia, Spain in 1519, he was the son of Marshal Don Carlos de Luna, who would serve as the governor of Yucatan. He came to New Spain in about 1530 and grew up to marry Isabel de Rojas. During his years in Mexico, de Luna served with Francisco Vasquez de Coronado on his expedition to the Seven Cities of Cíbola and helped in crushing an Indian rebellion in Oaxaca. In 1559, Mexican Viceroy, Don Luis Velasco, wanted a colony established in Florida to provide a stop for Spanish ships, discourage French settlement, and clear an overland trade route to Santa Elena, on present-day Parris Island, South Carolina, where another outpost would be founded.

He chose the wealthy, religious, and temperamental soldier, Tristan de Luna y Arellano, to lead the expedition. With a large force of 13 ships, 500 soldiers, and 1,000 colonists and servants, de Luna set out on June 11, 1569. The group sailed into present-day Pensacola Bay in mid August. Anchoring in the bay they called “Ochuse”, they established an encampment on shore, calling it Puerto de Santa Maria. Unfortunately, de Luna would prove to be an inept leader. Leaving the ships and most of the supplies in the bay for two months, he sent several exploring parties inland to explored the region. After three weeks, the scouts returned, reporting they had found only one Indian village. In the meantime, de Luna had dispatched one ship back to Vera Cruz to announce their safe arrival and request additional supplies. He had also readied two more ships to sail to Spain. What he did not do, was to unload their existing supplies for the colony from the ships in the bay.

On September 19, 1559, the bay was hit by a hurricane that destroyed the ships and most of the cargo. With the colony in serious danger, the soldiers and would-be colonists traveled up the Alabama River to the Indian village of Nanipacana, which they found abandoned. Calling the village Santa Cruz, they moved in for several months. Two relief ships arrived in November, which got the people through the winter. Another relief ship was promised in the spring, but, when it didn’t arrive, the settlers tried to plant crops; however, their efforts were unsuccessful as the soil was too sandy. By September, 1560, the relief ship expected in the spring had still not arrived and the colonists were becoming desperate. When de Luna ordered the remainder of his force to march to the large Indian town of Coca, the men mutinied. Bloodshed was averted only by the intervention of the missionaries.

Though many people died along the way, others made it through the winter surviving on native foods such as corn, beans, and pumpkins. Tristan de Luna y Arellano fell ill. Relief did not arrive until March, 1561, when the Spanish Viceroy sent Angel de Villafane to replace Tristan de Luna y Arellano. Villafane left about 50 men at Ochuse and sailed with about 230 people to Santa Elena. They too were struck by a hurricane, but some of the ships survived. He then sailed the storm-battered fleet to Hispaniola, and then to Havana, Cuba, where many of his soldiers scattered. After three months in Cuba, Villafañe returned to Ochuse to remove the remaining 50 men of the colony and sailed back to Mexico. Tristan de Luna y Arellano survived his illness and later, in 1563, became the governor of Yucatan, a position he retained until his death in 1571. The area was not populated again by Europeans until 1698, when the Spanish founded the city of Pensacola.

Pedro Menendez de Aviles, by Francisco de Paula Marti, 1791

Pedro Menendez de Aviles, by Francisco de Paula Marti, 1791

Captain Pedro Menendez de Aviles (1519-1574) – A brutal Spanish sailor, soldier, explorer, and conquistador, Pedro Menendez was sent by Philip II of Spain to remove the French from Florida. He set up camp in what is today the city of St. Augustine and launched his overland march to take Fort Caroline. He then marched south to find the shipwrecked French and put them to the sword.

Born on February 15, 1519 in Avils, Spain. One of 20 brothers and sisters, he knew his inheritance would be small and decided to earn his livelihood as a seaman. At the age of 14 he ran away to sea, embarking on a ship which sailed from Santander to engage French pirates. Upon his return, he sold a portion of his patrimony and purchased a vessel of his own. One of his most celebrated feats occurred in 1549, when he encountered Jean Alphonse, the most feared of the corsairs. After boarding the pirate’s ship he fought a single-handed duel with Alphonse, mortally wounding him.

In 1565, King Philip II of Spain selected Menéndez to outfit and command a colonizing expedition to Florida. The first objective of the mission was to eradicate a French Huguenot settlement at Fort Caroline at the mouth of the St. Johns River. The second objective was to establish fortified settlements along the coastline to provide refuge from hurricanes and pirates for the treasure fleets returning to Spain by way of the Bahama Channel.

De Aviles sailed from Spain in July, 1565 with 11 ships and about 2,000 soldiers. They landed in Florida harbor on August 28, 1565 where they established a settlement they called St. Augustine, which is now the oldest continually-inhabited city in the United States. On September 20, 1565, Aviles and his soldiers attacked the nearby French colony of Fort Caroline, murdering everyone, including women and children, and hanged some of the butchered bodies from trees. The site of the massacre is still known by its Spanish name of Matanzas (massacres). De Aviles also explored the coastline of North America as far north as St. Helena Island, South Carolina, and built a string of forts, firmly establishing Spain’s control of Florida.

Menendez’s daring exploits and naval prowess won him fame, fortune, and increasingly important missions to command. In 1554 Emperor Charles V named Menendez captain general of the Fleet of the Indies, a position which offered great opportunities for personal gain by irregular methods. But, unlike many of his predecessors, Menéndez was a man of integrity and refused to take bribes. In 1555 he made the first of six transatlantic voyages to America. In 1568 Menéndez was appointed governor of Cuba. Drawing upon his experiences as captain general of the Fleet of the Indies, he perfected the convoy-escort fleet, which helped protect the treasure fleets from the depredations of pirates. In 1572 Menéndez returned to Spain, where King Philip II appointed him captain general of the Armada that was to invade England. Menendez unexpected death on September 17, 1574, may have altered the course of history. The “invincible” Armada, which sailed on its disastrous mission in 1588, was subsequently entrusted to the Duke of Medina-Sidonia, a courageous man but an inept seaman.

Panfilo de Narvaez (1478?-1528) – Spanish explorer and soldier, Narvaez helped conquer Cuba in 1511 and led a Spanish royal expedition to North America in 1527. After surviving a hurricane near Cuba, his expedition landed on the west coast of Florida, near Tampa Bay in April, 1528, claiming the land for Spain. He died there the same year.

Narvaez was born in Valladolid, Spain in about 1478. He took part in the Spanish conquest of Jamaica in 1509 and two years later, in 1511 he participated in the conquest of Cuba under the command of Diego Velazquez de Cuellar, with whom, he was related. He led expeditions to the eastern end of the island in the company and presided over the infamous massacre of Caonao, where Spanish troopers put to the sword a village full of Indians who had come to meet them with offerings of food.

In 1519, Hernan Cortes led an expedition to Mexico that would eventually result in the overthrow of the Aztec Empire. In 1520, Diego Velazquez de Cuellar, the governor of Cuba, who did not wish to see Cortes succeed, sent Narvaez after him at the head of a large expedition of ships and Spanish troops, with instructions to bring Cortes back, dead or alive. Narvaez disembarked at Veracruz, where Cortes had left behind a small garrison upon setting out with the rest of his men for the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan. When the news of Narvaez’s arrival reached Cortés, the latter gathered his troops and returned to the coast, where he defeated Narvaez and took him prisoner. Narvaez remained a prisoner at Veracruz for approximately two years. In the meantime, the deadly disease of smallpox spread from a carrier in the Narvaez party to the native population of New Spain, killing many.

Later, in 1526, Narvaez was granted the land of Florida by the Emperor Charles V. He led an expedition there with some 250-300 men in 1528. After surviving a hurricane near Cuba, his expedition landed on the west coast of Florida, near Tampa Bay, in April, 1528, claiming the land for Spain. A series of hurricanes and fights with the local Indians killed many of the crew, and the captain of the ship sailed to Mexico without many of his men. The stranded men soon built five crude barges on which they sailed west, hoping to reach a Spanish settlement in Mexico. Along the way, three of the vessels sank, but, the two surviving ones, carrying about 80 men, landed at Galveston Island, Texas. After a very cold winter with very little food, only 15 men survived. In the spring, the men traveled west by land, walking along the Colorado River, through the deserts of modern Mexico, New Mexico, and Texas, before finally reaching civilization in 1536. By this time, there were only four men who had survived. Panfilo de Narvaez was not among them.

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